Staff Report

Two furry, eucalyptus-loving marsupials have taken up residence at the Santa Barbara Zoo for a one-year visit to increase awareness of the challenges facing them and other native Australian species.

Koala “ambassadors” Edmund and Thackory went on view in a special outdoor exhibit near the Zoo Train station in late April.

“Koalas are iconic animals for Australia, as it’s the only place they are found in the wild,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s Director of Animal Health and Care, who was born and received her veterinary degree in Australia. “But there are major challenges there that threaten koalas and other native animals and plants in Australia.

“Having Edmund and Thackory in Santa Barbara for a year allows our guests not only to appreciate these two little guys, but also to discover the changes affecting their native habitat,” she said.

Dr. Barnes names habitat destruction and fragmentation, prolonged drought and other extreme weather events, and predation by feral cats and dogs as major issues affecting koalas and other native species.

“But it’s not just on land. Animals in Australia’s oceans, including the Great Barrier Reef, also face the impacts of sea level rise, ocean warming, and increasing seawater acidity, among others,” she says.

Edmund and Thackory are on loan from the Los Angeles and San Diego Zoo, respectively. As with all koalas in American zoos, the pair officially “belong” to Australia.

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